The shape of the Future: Interview with CSC President Themis Papadopoulos

Regulatory changes, market forces and sustainability concerns are spurring innovation, which is transforming the maritime industry. Themis Papadopoulos, President of the Cyprus Shipping Chamber and Vice-President of the International Shipping Chamber, talks about the changing face of the shipping industry and the current challenges that the sector needs to overcome.

By Marianna Nicolaou

What lessons has the shipping industry learned from the effects of the pandemic and global lockdowns?

The outbreak of COVID-19, around 18 months ago, forced most companies to send their staff home and work remotely. This had not been tried on such a large scale and for such a long duration before and, although it appears that most companies passed the test successfully, I do not believe that it is a sustainable long-term way of working. Despite technological advances that make it possible to do many things in cyberspace, there is no replacement for human contact. More importantly, however, the pandemic created an unprecedented crisis for seafarers across the world. The reaction of many countries – to ban or seriously restrict crew changes – created the greatest crewing crisis that we have ever faced. Although the situation is somewhat improved today, the problem persists and, regrettably, highlights once again how many countries treat seafarers as an afterthought. The International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) has pushed this issue to the top of the agenda and is working to categorise seafarers as key workers so that this terrible situation will not be repeated in the future. I am delighted to say that Cyprus took an early lead in this and, through the Deputy Ministry of Shipping, a framework of procedures was developed that allowed crew changes to be carried out in Cyprus, even throughout last year.


The drive to decarbonise shipping and operate more efficient and greener ships may lead to a spike in the early retirement of ships that are difficult to decarbonise and drive a boom in ship disposal. How would this work towards the goals of reducing damage to the environment and combating the climate emergency?

The most challenging question posed to all shipping companies today concerns the shape of the future. Following the regulations passed by the International Maritime Organization, and as part of a global initiative around decarbonisation, the goal of all stakeholders is to develop the ‘green’ ship of the future. While there are numerous different ideas about what that means and which technologies may prevail, it is by no means clear at this point in time. It is possible that one technology will emerge as the most suitable and applicable but I consider it much more likely that we will have different technologies being applied to different kinds of ships, depending on the circumstances. Unfortunately, due to the highly fragmented nature of our industry, resources are scattered across different projects and I expect it will be some time before we have more clarity. In the meantime, all shipping companies are working to improve their carbon footprint to the extent possible and shipping’s aim is to contribute to the reduction of carbon emissions.


What can Cyprus do to encourage more shipping companies to relocate their headquarters to the country?

I believe that Cyprus has one of the most attractive frameworks for shipping, and this has been the cornerstone of its ability to develop and grow the resident cluster and the Cyprus flag. However, outside this specific legal and tax framework, there are many things that we could be doing better as a country. Many processes continue to be cumbersome and bureaucratic and we need to be better at serving companies once they are located in Cyprus. I do not believe that introducing additional incentives will lure more people here. For example, the decades-long talk about modernising our legal system never seems to materialize. Considering our location, however, we could certainly benefit from better air connectivity.


Does the continuing lack of a solution to the Cyprus Problem affect shipping-related projects in Cyprus or have the companies that make up the local cluster adapted to the post-1974 situation?

Shipping and trade are always the best tools that the world has to promote cooperation between countries and peoples and any maritime disputes, embargoes or other restrictions are always strongly condemned. They tend to be shortsighted and counterproductive most of the time. Turkey’s embargo of all things related to Cyprus shipping, including ports, falls within that category. Despite this, Cyprus has successfully managed over the past few decades to establish itself as one of the main global and European maritime centres.